Fearless Friday Forecasts Week 11 — Under the Weather
We are all sick. OK, well I am actually sick since I caught the flu this week (and have been complaining about it ever since… sorry, I can barely move enough to sit down and write the intro to this post or make my picks).
But we are all sick. Sick of blowing leads in the fourth quarter. Sick of questionable playcalling. Sick of what-ifs. Sick of knocking on the door and never breaking through.
What I am probably most sick about is that there may not be a whole lot Northwestern can do to fix any of this until next year when the slate is cleared again. Of course, there is still something the Wildcats can do about it this year. And that would be to go on the road and defeat Michigan State, cementing NU’s place in the upper half of the Big Ten.
The game against the Spartans this weekend should serve some form of redemption for the frustration of the entire season. Each week is an opportunity to do so. And the Wildcats have done one thing pretty consistently this season — respond to defeats.
With that, we move on to this week’s picks. Last week I went 3-2 to move my record to 65-19 (.774 win percentage) and LTP went 1-4 to move his record to 55-24 (.696 win percentage). Rough week for LTP. Let’s see how he bounces back this week:
Iowa (4-6, 2-4) vs. No. 24 Michigan (7-3, 5-1) — 11 a.m. CT/ESPN
LTP: Sigh. I get pissed just seeing the name in the headline. And I’m not talking about Iowa. Michigan has bounced off the mat they were on in Nebraska after salvaging their season with the miracle win over Northwestern. The Hawkeyes are a hot mess and on the verge of putting Kirk Ferentz on to some serious hot burners. Unless the Hawkeyes pull off not one, but two huge upsets in the final two weeks in their role as spoiler against Legends Division title chasers Michigan and Nebraska, they’ll be home for the holidays trying to regenerate the 47th new RB in the past few years. Michigan has too much mojo and with Devin Gardner finding his stride, you’ve seen what Kain Colter can do to them, Gardner puts the dual in the dual threat. This one is a blowout.
Michigan 37 Iowa 17
PRR: Devin Gardner proved last week that he can still play quarterback and can manage a game well enough to score a victory against a quality opponent. Iowa is not quite a quality opponent. The Hawkeyes have bafflingly struggled this year and the loss to the Boilermakers last week on a last-second kick left only more questions for Kirk Ferentz’s team. Going to Michigan Stadium is not the way to answer those questions. I suspect Gardner will have an even bigger day than he had against Northwestern and Michigan wins easily.
Michigan 28, Iowa 10
Indiana (4-6, 2-4) vs. Penn State (6-4, 4-2) — 11 a.m. CT/BTN
LTP: I’m curious to see how the Hoosiers respond from the waxing they took at home to Wisconsin last week where they gave up 62 points in a game that meant something. Indiana has been one of the more enigmatic teams in the B1G, but one thing is consistent – their defense is awful. The offense is potent, most of the time, but Penn State’s defense is pretty darn good. My hunch is the Nittany Lions are livid after the disastrous call in Huskerville last week. I’ve got too much fear of McGloin to pick against him.
Penn State 38 Indiana 23
PRR: Indiana had its Big Ten title dreams crushed at home against Wisconsin. Hard to believe that the Hoosiers were that close to controlling their own destiny in the Leaders Division. Then again, they never really were that close because the Badgers absolutely throttled them in the end. What does that tell us about Indiana? The Hoosiers play well against weaker competition, but get decimated by stronger competition. Penn State is stronger competition. Unless the Hoosiers offense gets hot like they did against the Cats, this one may not be very close at all.
Penn State 31, Indiana 10
Minnesota (6-4, 2-4) vs. No. 15 Nebraska (8-2, 5-1) — 2:30 p.m. CT/BTN
PRR: The Cornhuskers have been the masters of the great escape this year. No second half lead is safe against the Cornhuskers, they always find a way to squeeze out wins. It was not just us, I swear. That has been the biggest sign of Taylor Martinez’s maturation and growth this year. It has Nebraska in the driver’s seat and a win this week puts Michigan in the difficult situation of having to win at Ohio State to gain a share of the Legends Division title. Minnesota is not going to cause Nebraska much trouble.
Nebraska 28, Minnesota 13
LTP: The Phillip Nelson era is underway and it’s a major piece of the fear factor that Jerry Kill is starting to create for opposing coaches. The Gophers are still a couple years away from becoming a national story for poking their heads above the Big Ten ground and potentially getting in to the rare 8-win level type season. A win over Legends Division leader Nebraska would serve notice for 2013 opponents that Minnesota needs to be respected. I’ve got a ton of respect for Kill, but they simply don’t have the manpower to hang with the explosive Husker offense. It would take another 3 muffed punt kind of day for the Gophers to have a shot.
Nebraska 41 Minnesota 20
No. 9 Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) vs. Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2) — 2:30 p.m. CT/ABC
LTP: The Badgers never lose in Camp Randall. OK, until Michigan State did what no one does and knocked them off in Madtown two weeks ago. Now, two weeks later, the Badgers are already assured a spot in the B1G title game in Indianapolis on December 1. Will they be out to prove they’re the best by beating the only undefeated B1G team or are they already taking their foot off the gas pedal? The ground game has cranked it up lately and the passing output is down to single digit passes per game as Bielema uses his third QB of the season. The Ohio State Buckeyes are the most flawed of the nation’s unbeaten teams and I’m confident Wisconsin will move the ball on them. However, I think the Buckeyes just have more playmakers and that guy named Braxton who is the difference maker. Ohio State sets up their annual grudge match by keeping the loss column blank.
Ohio State 31 Wisconsin 24
PRR: Wisconsin seems to have figured out an identity and an ability to establish Montee Ball despite quarterback questions. That is something big for this game at Camp Randall. There should be plenty of motivation to win this game for Wisconsin. After all, who wants to say they went to the Big Ten Championship and did not win their division? Wisconsin certainly does not want that even after clinching its ticket to Indianapolis. And, as LTP said, nobody goes to Camp Randall and wins. Michigan State already did that. Ohio State has had some teetering performances and eventually that has to come back to get it.
Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 21
Purdue (4-6, 1-5) vs. Illinois (2-8, 0-6)
LTP: What would you charge to get paid to actually have to watch this. Thing is, I will, since I need to scout the Illini for you next week. The Boilers are coming off their first win in Kinnick in nearly 20 years and have some momentum. Well, momentum, meet trampoline. The Illini are one of the national disaster stories of the 2012 season. Right now, I simply don’t see the Illini sticking together as their 12 game conference losing streak will move on. How the hell did this program win their bowl game last year?
Purdue 30 Illinois 17
PRR: I tried to get Illinois its first Big Ten win last week so they would not be chasing it when the team comes to Evanston next week. The Illini did not deliver confirming what we all knew: the Illini are hopeless. Purdue finally got of the schneid last week and are better than its record indicates. Illinois has to figure this is a must-win game just for psyche’s sake as they send their seniors out of Champaign for the final time. Somehow I think they might get it, but I am not willing to bet on Illinois again.
Purdue 21, Illinois 20
Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) vs. Michigan State (5-5, 2-4) — 11 a.m. CT/ESPN2
LTP: Can the ‘Cats rushing attack work against the best defense (by far) in the conference? Will NU’s beleaguered secondary be able to keep Andrew Maxwell in check? This one has all the makings of a Venric Mark vs Le’Veon Bell/may the team with the higher rusher wins the game scorecard type of thing. It’s really a big game for both teams as the ‘Cats still have some really big things in their control, like a 10-win season which happens once every 40 years on average. Some late season momentum could really position NU well for 2013 and at the same time really hold down a recruiting rival of sorts on the brink of staying home for the holidays. MSU as you know holds teams to just 288 ypg of offense and 16 ppg. This game screams of first-to-20-wins. The “X factor” in this game might be the psychology of the jersey color. NU’s senior class, its winningest in history has never beaten Michigan State. That, combined with a potential 4th quarter lead could really play mind games with the ‘Cats. I’ve got a rare very good feeling about this one. Fitz’s teams perform better on the road in conference and I think the team has really got a chip on its shoulder. I’m here to channel that positive energy.
Northwestern 24 Michigan State 20
PRR: Northwestern has responded very well to its two other losses this year. The Wildcats have made adjustments and found ways to make things work. Against Minnesota, Northwestern recommitted itself to the ground game and rand down Minnesota’s throats for a win. Against Iowa, NU recommitted itself to Kain Colter as quarterback and again devoured Iowa’s rush defense. They were both nice wins and quelled our fears. What adjustment can we expect from Northwestern this week? I don’t think there will be much change. The Wildcats played well and executed against the Wolverines. They largely stopped the run last week and they have done so throughout most of the season. The question is whether Michigan State will be able to pass the ball with any effectiveness. The Spartans have not been able to do that all year, they might do better against the Cats’ pass defense but not good enough.
Northwestern 21, Michigan State 17
Other Games to Watch:
Syracuse (5-5) travels to Missouri at 6 p.m. CT on ESPNU. Last week Syracuse made Louisville fear the dome, ending Louisville’s unblemished record with a 45-26 win.
Vanderbilt (6-4) hosts Tennessee at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2. Vanderbilt snuck past Mississippi last weekend 27-26 on Jordan Rodgers’ 27-yard pass to Chris Boyd with 52 seconds left.
Boston College (2-8) hosts Virginia Tech at 11:30 a.m. CT on ACC Network. Notre Dame strong-armed its way past Boston College last week with a 21-6 victory.
South Dakota (1-9) visits South Dakota State at 2 p.m. CT. Northern Iowa defeated South Dakota 24-21.
Looking Ahead to 2013
California (3-8) visits No. 16 Oregon State at 9:30 p.m. CT on Pac-12 Network. California met the Oregon juggernaut and lost 59-17 last week.
Western Michigan (4-7) hosts Eastern Michigan 1 p.m. CT. Western Michigan lost to Buffalo last week 29-24.
Maine (4-6) visits Rhode Island at 11 a.m. CT. Maine defeated Georgia State 51-7 last week.